Made from scratch, made with love
‘The Pie Lady’ of Tama Co. sees her business flourish
Chances are if you’ve enjoyed a delectable piece of pie handed to you by a beaming gal through the window of a food truck in the Tama-Grundy area – or beyond! – over the last few years, you’ve met ‘The Pie Lady, ‘ which means you’ve met Laura Bru of rural Gladbrook.
“I started making pies just for family,” Bru said of her business’s origins as she whisked around her kitchen – located on her and her husband Ryan’s farmstead – during the height of the holiday season last year. “I started about 10 years ago with a small card table at the Gladbrook Farmers Market with the purpose of showing my kids how to count change back and talk to people while looking them in the eye.”
“But the pies really took off when I went on the RAGBRAI route for the first time in 2013. With just a couple of canopies and a couple of friends … we breezed through a couple hundred pies in a couple of days.”
Over the decade since that fateful first RAGBRAI, Bru – who, in addition to being ‘The Pie Lady’ is also a wife, a mother of two teenagers, a farmer, a seed business co-owner, and a substitute teacher in the GMG school district – has only seen her business grow with her pies now found seemingly everywhere including at the Cedar Falls Farmers Market, in area grocery stores, at various town celebrations, and even at the National Balloon Classic in Indianola and the Farm Progress Show in both Boone and Decatur, Ill.
But of all the places she and her pies have been through the years, Bru said, “Let’s be honest, no place is a bad place for pie!”
But why pie? Is it the portability factor? The endless recipes? The nostalgia eating a slice brings to people in this rural, agrarian state where many folks are only just a step or two removed from the farm and its iconic farmhouse kitchen with a freshly baked apple pie resting on the counter?
“Why not pie?” Bru said of her reason for setting off on the path of pie. “I would define pie as home – a memory or a piece of history. Finding people that make pie from scratch is rare anymore, and I take pride in making a product that I truly put my heart into.”
While Bru says she did not grow up “in a house that was in the kitchen much,” she was able to learn most of her kitchen skills from her late mother-in-law – just not necessarily her pie-making skills.
“I’d say my pie skills are from a lot of fails!!” Bru said with a laugh. “Learning from what didn’t work and learning the extra that I can add to put my own spin on things.”
All of Bru’s pies are made entirely from scratch with no preservatives or additives. The crust is made with lard rendered from local livestock, while the fruit for the fillings is made with high-quality produce. “This is where you’ll taste the difference,” Bru writes on her website.
Today, Bru’s pies are no longer made in her own farmhouse kitchen but in the ‘pie shop’ – a separate building built just over a year ago, located some 20 steps beyond her back door. The pie shop is essentially an open-air, commercial kitchen boasting multiple ovens and a garage with both an external and internal door that allows her to load vehicles while sheltered from all the bad weather Iowa can muster.
Her coworkers consist of a friend up the road who helps out occasionally, and the dozen or so farm cats and kittens invariably lined up along the path between her house and the pie shop.
Bru’s busiest time of year isn’t necessarily a holiday, she said – although on the day of this interview which took place just ahead of Thanksgiving, she was in the process of baking 18 pies with perhaps double that amount already resting fresh out of the oven on the counter.
“I go through the highest amount of pies during the Farm Progress Show,” Bru said. “In 2022, we sold pies by the slice for three days going through around 100 whole pies per day. Farmers do love their pie!”
But the most requested type of pie does tend to follow a seasonal cycle, Bru said, with strawberry rhubarb getting top billing in the summer months and caramel apple “flying out the door” during fall and Thanksgiving.
While Bru’s family has their individual favorites – “sometimes changing several times throughout the year” – she said she has never had a pie in the house that “didn’t get dug into!”
Reviews of The Pie Lady found online sing her praises as well.
“I have yet to have anything from her that was not just delicious,” one reviewer commented on Facebook. “Her cinnamon rolls with raisins, any of the pies, or cheesecakes are fantastic. I highly recommend anything she makes!”
Grundy Center dentist Dr. Ryan Weaver, DDS, loves The Pie Lady’s pies so much that he will every so often declare it “Pie Day” at the office, ordering several pies from Bru and allowing every patient to “take a piece or two home with them, and every patient who does has a big smile on their face as they leave.”
Bru’s son Jay also sings The Pie Lady’s praises quite willingly – no pitchfork required! – telling the Sun Courier, “Although [she] spends a lot of time out in the shop, you still make time to make supper for us and come to about all of our sporting events, and for that, I thank you.”
For her part, Bru’s daughter Lilly also appreciates the dedication her mom puts into both her pies and her family: “Having my mom serve as ‘The Pie Lady’ in my community has been one of the biggest opportunities in my life. I’ve been able to learn so many skills from her, like knowing how to bake, increasing my social skills, and learning business management practices. I’m very thankful to have my mom – The Pie Lady – in my life.”
Those interested in sampling The Pie Lady’s pies for themselves – everything from her Purist Peach to her Southern Charm Pecan to her Rockin’ Raisin Cream and beyond – need to look no further than Bru’s online presence at iowapielady.com. She can also be contacted directly through her Facebook page, ‘The Pie Lady – Iowa’, or by email at Iowapielady@gmail.com. Orders can usually be fulfilled within the week, if not sooner, depending on the time of year.
But no matter how one orders from The Pie Lady, Bru said each customer is purchasing more than just a delectable, made-from-scratch dessert – they’ll also be getting a little something extra, something the world could certainly use more of these days.
“Love,” Bru said. “A lot of love goes into every pie.”